Following a turbulent week due to Sandro Rosell’s resignation Barça return to action tomorrow night with the visit of Malaga to Camp Nou for game 21 of the 2013/14 Liga (Sunday 9 pm). Carles Puyol, Alex Song and Martin Montoya all miss the game with minor injuries while Andrés Iniesta has still not recovered from his knee injury. Tata Martino has called up Ibrihim Afellay for his first inclusion in a match squad since May 2012.
Martino will be hoping that decisions off the field do not affect the team. There should of course be no change in the players’ mentality or desire to win but it cannot be denied that the atmosphere created by the crowd can influence the team’s performance. The announcement by new president Josep Maria Bartomeu that he intends to continue until 2016 and not call elections this summer may provoke some form of protest. However, the Camp Nou public is not stupid and wants Barça to win, and Bartomeu’s impressive appearance at yesterday’s press conference will have helped to calm the waters. There is a slight extra pressure on the players as a poor performance or a goal conceded at any moment is likely to provoke a more negative reaction than usual. A win tomorrow is not just about staying on top of the league for another week, now it’s also about the stability of the club.
Barça have an excellent record against Malaga at Camp Nou. The Andalusians have played 32 times here in La Liga but have only managed two wins and a draw. Barça have won the last three encounters by an identical score of 4-1, while the last Malaga win came in November 1999 (1-2) when Winston Bogarde scored Barça’s consolation. Malaga’s coach, Bernd Schuster, played 241 times for Barça between 1980 and 1988, but this will be his first visit to Camp Nou since leading Real Madrid to a 0-1 victory in December 2007. Barça beat Malaga 0-1 back in August in Schuster’s first home game in the Malaga hot-seat. Since then Malaga have failed to find the form of recent seasons and they are currently struggling in 15th place on 21 points. Schuster’s conservative tactics mean Malaga have only scored seven goals in ten away games this season but they have only conceded twelve, and tomorrow we can expect a defensive 4-5-1 formation from the visitors. El Hamdaoui and Samuel Garcia will face fitness tests and midfielder Pablo Perez, signed this month for €1 million from Newell’s Old Boys, could make his first start.
Given the comfortable 1-4 victory over Levante in the first leg of the Copa del Rey quarter-final on Wednesday, Martino can be sure to play his best available XI tomorrow in the knowledge he can rest players in next Wednesday’s second leg. This means we will probably see a repeat of the team that drew last week in the league at Levante except for Alves returning in place of Montoya.
Barça’s 18-man squad: Valdés, Pinto, Alves, Piqué, Bartra, Mascherano, Adriano, Alba, Busquets, Xavi, Sergi Roberto, Fabregas, Alexis, Pedro, Messi, Dongou, Afellay, Tello.
Barça: Valdés; Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Alba; Xavi, Busquets, Fabregas; Alexis, Messi, Pedro.
Malaga: Willy Caballero; Jesús Gamez, Sergio Sanchez, Ferreira, Antunes; Pablo Perez, Tissone, Camacho, Duda, Eliseu; Santa Cruz.
Prediction: Barça 3 Malaga 0
Date: Sunday 26 January 2014. Kick-off 9 pm local time.